9 JUNE 1990 AT 6.30 PM
On 1st June 1966, the first batch of officer cadets reported to SAFTI for training. These 300 men were selected from 2,500 applicants. All had volunteered; we had no National Service then. Like Singapore then, our armed forces were in their infancy. We had no tradition of military service, and those who joined the armed forces enjoyed few incentives or perks. But these men had the pioneering spirit. They savoured the sense of adventure that comes from being the first, of doing their best and blazing a trail for others to follow. They were training to be leaders of the men to defend our new republic.
The ideals of these pioneers in the SAF are still relevant today. The success of Singapore depends upon how well we uphold these ideals: the constant drive to excel in all that we do, as individuals and as a nation, and a willingness to share responsibility for the common good.
While these ideals do not change over time, we cannot expect succeeding generations to identify with them and embrace them in the same instinctive way as the pioneers did. Each succeeding generation is different. The cadets who train in SAFTI today have grown up with experiences and perceptions different from those pioneers of SAFTI. They did not live through the turmoil of the early years - strikes, racial unrest, unemployment, Confrontation and Separation. They have known peace and progress, not uncertainty and danger. They do not instinctively comprehend the hard choices that Singapore faced.
Today's generation are also better educated and more affluent. They have rising aspirations and needs. They are preoccupied with their careers and professions. This is the natural outcome of peace, stability and prosperity.
Today, young men do not make the same conscious commitment when they come to SAFTI as the pioneers did. They are drafted as National Servicemen, and the best are selected to come to SAFTI. We therefore need to capture and preserve the spirit of the pioneers.
The SAF officer corps has a major role to play in this. The SAF is a citizens' militia, and its officer corps has a leadership role that extends beyond the SAF. The values inculcated in SAF officers are the same ones that they will transmit to their men, and which will permeate our society.
SAFTI is therefore a key institution. The most promising of each year's cohort of eighteen year olds are chosen for SAFTI. In SAFTI, they must develop and become leaders with the courage, stamina and drive to carry a mission through to success; here they must build common bonds and obligations among fellow officers. An officer must live by the SAFTI motto - "To Lead, To Excel, To Overcome". He must be ready to serve not just for himself but for the sake of a greater good: his comrades, his men, his unit and his country.
Every society needs such men. The refrain "Duty, Honour, Country" brings forth images of generations of West Point graduates, trained on the banks of the Hudson River, who have dedicated their lives to the service of their country. The British built an Empire of men educated in Eton and Harrow, then in Oxford and Cambridge, for military training in Sandhurst and Dartmouth. Chinese, Japanese, Indians, French, Germans and Russians all do the same.
The spirit and traditions of their military schools are represented by the buildings they lived and trained in. A chapel, a courtyard, a dining hall, a lecture room, each evokes its special significance and fond memories. The buildings speak to each new generation of men who pass through them, reminding them of the sacrifices and deeds of those who came before them, and inspiring them to excellence in their service of the nation. They symbolise the spirit of the endeavour, past achievements, enduring traditions, and future challenges.
The SAF does not have such a set of buildings. So in 1982 when I asked MINDEF to acquire this plot of land to build a new complex for training SAF officers, it was not just buildings that we needed to build.
A symbol that evokes pride and patriotism that takes many years to create. But SAFTI will not start from scratch. It already has a twenty-five year headstart. In time, the new buildings comprising SAFTI will arouse in our young officer cadets pride in past achievement and present endeavour and inspire them to supreme effort on behalf of our society.
These SAFTI Colours which I presented to SAFTI in 1968, represented the ideals, hopes and visions which we had for SAFTI and the nation at that time. These colours will continue to embody the spirit and tradition that SAF officers have made their own. When the new SAFTI is completed in 1994, and you carry these Colours to their new home, leave nothing of this spirit behind. Bring along all that SAFTI has meant to all of you, and pass it on to succeeding generations of officers.